Council to discuss expanding Leinster hurling championship
Weaker teams seek extra place in series to offer ‘genuine hope’ of avoiding relegation
Laois players celebrate their victory over Dublin. They qualified for next season’s Leinster championship series by winning the Joe McDonagh Cup. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Leinster Council chairman Jim Bolger has confirmed that the structure of the provincial hurling championship will be under discussion when officials meet next Tuesday.
Bolger acknowledged a growing “momentum” for change to the present five-team format with various hurling figures calling for an extra place to be allocated to a developing county.
Carlow gained promotion to this year’s Leinster championship as 2018 Joe McDonagh Cup winners but lost all four games and were immediately relegated.
Their manager, Colm Bonnar, called on the Leinster Council to move from a five- to six-team structure, claiming this would give “genuine hope” of survival to weaker teams.
That call was echoed this week by Joe Phelan, part of the Laois panel that won this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup and which has qualified for the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Bolger said that simply moving to a six-team format is one option but he also mooted a more radical expansion to eight teams in Leinster, comprising two groups of four.
“This hasn’t just come up today or yesterday, I even mentioned looking at having two groups of four at one stage because we were looking at the Carlows, Laois, Offaly and Westmeaths, we felt they had closed the gap to a level that allowed us to look at that option,” said Bolger at a ceremony for the PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month awards for June.
“We threw that out [before] and looked at the model and looked at what might work for us potentially, even tying in the McDonagh Cup and having the bottom team in each group coming down into the McDonagh semi-finals, so the best team comes up out of those four.
“We were just teasing it out and discussing it. We will have a chat about it next Tuesday night and see what the feeling is from the relevant counties.”
Bolger confirmed, however, that any potential change to the Leinster format would not kick in until 2021.
“We have to bring this to Congress, which would then not kick in until the following year,” said Bolger. “We’re bound by rule in that sense.”
A special congress has already been scheduled for this October to deal with the football championship but Bolger said that meeting could not be used to consider potential hurling changes.
“No, no, we don’t have enough representation at that, so we are bound by that,” he said. “We will see what the feeling is next week, how strong the feeling is for or against changing it and if it is really strong for it, we will look at the options then. But it looks like we will have to go to a full Congress and then it will kick in the following year.”
Bolger agreed that a mood for change, potentially moving the Leinster championship format out of sync with its Munster counterpart, appears to exist.
“We need to look at everything and discuss it but we will do so with more focus now that there seems to be more momentum in that regard,” he said.